I joined a game show message board in 1999, when “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” was the hottest thing on primetime television. Judy Murphy, now in her 70s, was another member of the group, and we both eventually played the game on TV, me in 2001 and her in 2004.
The group was an easy one to enjoy and we learned a lot about each other as we chatted. And so during that Rose Bowl game years ago, I wondered Murphy why she had been a cheerleader in high school, instead of running track, which I knew she was given a chance to do in college.
Through a female dorm-mate, Murphy was invited to work out with the men’s track team at the University of Oklahoma when she was there in the 1960s, but it was not to be. That dorm- mate, a long-jumper from California, competed against the few women in college track at the time while Murphy passed on the opportunity, having arrived at a big university with no familiar faces and deciding to pledge a sorority to find the security of fast friends.
“I didn’t see any way to run track and do the mandatory sorority pledge things, too,” she said. “There have been days when I regretted my decision.”
Her sports career began with a single summer on the track in junior high, years before Title IX existed. She followed that with the high school cheerleading stint, and it wasn’t until decades later, when her children were involved in youth track, that she got a chance to run again.
The Norman and Tulsa track clubs were great rivals, and that rivalry extended to the moms, who fielded competing teams for 400-meter relays. Murphy, limited by her options, had made the most of her athletic options since she left college.
“I wasn’t great,” Murphy claimed. “But because of ballet classes, I had retained enough muscle strength and conditioning to be better than most of the other women.”
That came in handy when the Tulsa Spikes added in an 18-year-old big sister to run as their team’s closer. Murphy recognized the look of a ringer, and sure enough, the teen had a ferocious head start in the final leg.
“I managed to run her down by the third turn and held the lead to the finish,” Murphy recalled. “Hurray for me and ballet, a little-known, but effective, training technique.”